Bradford City show greenshoots of recovery under Graham Alexander with solid win over Accrington Stanley
After an autumn of discontent at Valley Parade that has seen a big-name manager in Mark Hughes depart and a terrace favourite in Kevin McDonald bring a bit of sunshine before the clouds darkened again, Bradford enter the winter months finally looking capable of lifting the gloom.
Early days yet and we’re not getting carried away, was the cautious message from Graham Alexander, but the new manager has his second win in a week, a first in League Two and at least has the expectant Bantams faithful thinking positively again.
“We’re all happy, in the dressing room, around the stadium and on the bench,” enthused Alexander after a 1-0 win over Accrington Stanley that was built on some front-foot defending.
“We work exceptionally hard during the week and you want your reward at the end of the week.”
It was a week that began with the concession of four goals in the first half at Notts County, when the depths Bradford were plumbing appeared never-ending. But since a tweak of formation in the dressing room, Bradford have outscored the opposition 8-1; saving face with two goals without reply at Notts, thumping Barnsley 5-1 in the EFL Trophy in midweek and then this hard-earned win over a team in the play-off places that City, on this evidence, can still covet.
“We’ve been looking for a winning formula,” said Alexander, and he appears to have found it with three central defenders, wing-backs and a big-man, little-man combination up front.
It was that which unlocked the door against Accrington in the 55th minute. Bradford were somewhat fortunate to go in level at the break, Accrington creating marginally the better chances with Kody Adedoyin three times finding space to shoot, only troubling Harry Lewis once at his near post.
But the game changed when Ciaran Kelly played the ball forward from the back, Andy Cook drew the two Accrington defenders towards him allowing Smith to dart in behind and with the outside of his boot loft the ball over Jon McCracken for the opener.
For so much of Hughes’ time in charge, Cook was an isolated figure, no matter how great the volume of goals he has plundered. Alexander has given him a strike partner and Smith has repaid that faith with three goals in the new manager’s first four games.
Alexander added: “It was a brilliant finish. I thought Cooky (Andy Cook) was a real handful for them to handle and Tyler picked up the spaces.
“It’s still in its infancy, everything is. There’s still things we can improve on as a team; back three, wing-backs, but we’ve only played this formation for two and half games inside a week.
“We’ve got to put a training programme together to show them but we’ve got to analyse it, the good movement, good connections.”
Alexander reiterated that he will be flexible with his formations - “I won’t change formation depending on the opponent, I will only do it depending on what suits our players,” - but what pleased him most was how his team pressed high up the pitch.
“I believe in us defending as far away from our goal as possible, how we press, which was really good today,” he said. “Accrington wanted to play out from the start but we knocked that on the head quickly because they turned the ball over and couldn’t get out. I thought our defensive structure was excellent.”
It at least meant Lewis went largely untroubled as City defended a lead which Kelly nearly doubled, only to head straight at McCracken.
There was intent from Bradford, a little more poise than has been on show in recent times, and cause for optimism.
There will be ups and downs - Forest Green away on Tuesday night is not an easy trip - but the last five halves of football have given Bradford and Alexander something to build on.
“There’s still more to come from us, but hopefully they’ve seen the intent to attack and to try and create,” said Alexander. “We need time to develop that, but win while we’re doing that.”
Bradford: Lewis, Platt, Taylor, Kelly (Stubbs 88), Halliday, Walker, Smallwood, Richards, Gilliead, Cook, Smith (Chapman 81). Unused substitutes: Tomkinson, Osadebe, Oduor, Doyle, Oliver.
Accrington Stanley: McCracken, Lowe, Rich-Baghuelou, Hills, Shipley, Conneely (B Woods 81), Leigh, Longelo (J Woods 90), Andrews, Nolan (Whalley 46), Adedoyin. Unused substitutes: Mellor, Gubbins, Henderson, McIntyre.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).